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Meeting California’s Future Energy Needs – An Overview

In 2008, Californians used more than 285,000 gigawatt hours of electricity to power their homes and businesses. Considering California’s population is expected to grow to 54 million by 2040 (up from 37 million today), there’s no question that the State’s long-term energy needs will increase.

Conservation and energy efficiency alone cannot bridge the gap between projected energy supply and projected energy needs. California is already the most energy-efficient state in the nation, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, and has a strong track record of adopting cost-effective energy efficiency programs that have saved California’s households and businesses $56 billion over the past 30 years.

This speaks to the important role energy conservation and efficiency can and must play. But fully meeting the energy needs for 50-60 million Californians, while meeting the State’s renewable energy requirements, requires tapping into new sources of power generation and extensive improvements to our aging energy infrastructure.

Green Energy Requirements

Under a law signed in April 2011, 20 percent of the electricity sold by California investor-owned utilities is required to come from qualifying renewable resources (not including large hydroelectric) by December 31, 2013. This same law, the California Renewable Energy Resources Act, also requires that all California get 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by the year 2020.

California’s utilities must also comply with the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), which requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, as electricity production is California’s second-largest source of GHG emissions. By making the switch to renewable resources, California’s electric utilities can help improve the air quality and environment for all Californians while meeting the goals of AB 32 — but to enjoy those benefits, new sources of renewable energy must be connected to the transmission grid.

New Infrastructure is Critical

Built between the 1940s and 1980s, California’s energy transmission grid system was primarily designed to transfer electricity from large power plants located near major load centers in the northern and southern parts of the state. Over the past 20 years, California’s population has moved outwards from the traditional load centers. As a result, the existing transmission and distribution infrastructure is becoming more costly and inefficient to operate and is no longer sufficient to meet California’s growing needs.
Unlike many traditional generation facilities, new renewable resources are located far from the current load centers and there is very little existing infrastructure to bring the renewable power generated to where it is needed.

The California Public Utilities Commission has projected that 11 new transmission lines will be needed in California over the next 10 years. Only three of these 11 needed lines are currently going through the required permitting process, a process that today takes 7 – 10 years to complete.

New transmission will relieve the burden on the existing lines, help ensure a continued supply of reliable and affordable energy, and enable grid operators to tap into green energy resources that currently have no way of reaching load centers.

California – Working Together to Achieve California’s Future Energy Needs

Multiple approaches will be needed to:

  • Meet our renewable resource requirements;
  • Maintain safe and reliable operation of the transmission and distribution systems; and
  • Improve the environment and health of California’s citizens.

This effort requires utilities, federal, state and local agencies, energy generators, and environmental and consumer organizations to work together to bring new generation online and develop the transmission facilities needed to bring that energy to California’s load centers.

Several efforts are currently underway to accelerate permitting of new renewable generation and transmission facilities. These measures include the elimination of duplication within state and federal processes, shortening permitting timelines and streamlining planning processes through such collaborative efforts as the California Transmission Planning Group.

These collaborative efforts can lead the way to balancing the needs of clean energy development and remove the barriers to meeting our energy goals and ensure a reliable energy future.